Episode 16: Auto Dialing System, Parking at the Burton Yard, Communication and other topics

In this episode of the ELH Podcast I spend a little time talking about the new auto-dialer system we are putting in place to help with safety staff efficiancy.  I also spend a few minutes on the parking situation at the Burton yard.  We could really use everyone’s help with making sure the trucks and trailers are not parked in the middle of the open space in front of the maintenance facility.  With the amount of scrap equipment we’ve been able to get moved there should not be a problem finding a parking slot.

I spend a few minutes talking about the continued need for communication throughout the company.  Many of the most severe “failures” we have are because information didn’t flow correctly between departments or within the same department.  It remains critical that we communicate — there is simply no other way to move this company forward without a solid communication culture.

Remember, the second Team Call of the year is scheduled for next Wednesday (4-18-18) at 1300 EST.  The call in number is 267-930-4000 and use PIN: 721-724-708#.  Please call in to hear about the latest progress with the company directly from the company President, Chris Shepard.

Finally, we are looking for recruiters.  If you are interested in being a driver recruiter and have good computer, phone and sales skill we want to hear from you.  Please contact Kristina in HR if you are interested.  Send an email to hr@elhc.net or call 810-233-7331 ext 271.

As always, your feedback is welcomed — in fact, I’m just short of begging for your feedback.  Anything you’d like us to discuss or questions you have that you’d like answered, I’ll entertain them in a podcast episode.  Feel free to contact me at jberlin@elhc.net or via phone at 810-233-7331 ext 238.

Episode 15: Performance reviews return, driver improvements continue and intro to reference based pricing for health insurance

In this episode of the ELH Podcast we discuss the long-overdue return of consistent employee performance reviews using the new Paylocity platform.  It has been entirely too long since we consistently completely employee performance reviews and that is entirely my fault.  Kristina has been working really hard to get this process reestablished and we finally have some timing on this — the beginning of May.  If you are in a supervisory role, there will be some training on this system around the middle of April and we expect notices to go out to employees the first of May.

You asked for it and we heard you.  We got 5th wheel grease packets available at all the terminals, driver access to restroom facilities at the Flint terminal has been fixed/improved, trailer pads have been cut and placed at the Flint and Wentzville parking areas, porta-johns installed at the Holiday yard in Flint and office/driver area in Plymouth renovation is coming shortly.

We spend a little time introducing referenced based insurance pricing.  A much more detailed explanation of this process will be coming when Kristina Lemons, our HR Director is interviewed around the middle of April but I wanted to spend a minute or two introducing it so when we roll this out you’ll have had time to formulate any questions you may have regarding the program.  The ultimate goal of this is to reduce cost and improve care so please send us your questions — again, if you have them you can be sure other people will have them too.

Finally, the next Team Call is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18th at 1300 EST.  To get on the call, please dial 267-930-4000 and enter PIN 721-724-708#.  If you have questions you’d like us to discuss, please feel free to send them to me at jberlin@elhc.net or call me at 810-233-7331 ext 238.

Episode 14: Safety stats, progress on improvements and driver call off concerns

Every month we have a corporate safety meeting to talk about and review our safety metrics and policies.  We also spend a few minutes reviewing claims for auto liability and cargo while reviewing trends in the data.  Obviously we talk about how we can get better to reduce the potential for driver injury and cost.

There have also been quite a few other improvements like the door buzzer at the back door of the Flint terminal area so drivers can get in to use the restroom during off hours, the driver lounge in Burton got refinished, we got some patching done at the Plymouth yard and the extra Wentzville yard parking should be open for this weekend.

We continue to encourage drivers to keep their trucks clean.  Michelle is on the lookout for drivers who take an extra minute to look after their equipment and she is ready to provide some monetary feedback for those she catches doing an exceptional job.

There is also a quick business lesson as we discuss the importance of not calling off work.  The trucks have a fixed cost and that cost accumulates whether it is being driven or not.  So when the company doesn’t move the trucks to cover its fixed cost we simply go backward.  Trying to do more for all employees is harder when the trucks don’t move.

Finally, the next Team Call is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18th at 1300.  The phone number for the call is 267-930-4000 PIN: 721-724-708.  Please send me any feedback or questions at jberlin@elhc.net or via phone at 810-233-7331 ext 238.

Episode 13: Drivewyze statistics update, Surveys and other topics

In this episode we discuss the statistics for the recently-implemented Drivewyze program.  Spoiler alert — it’s working great!  We are not getting pulled in to weigh stations as often and we are saving time for us and our drivers.  Also, there have been some recent survey’s sent out and I spend a little time discussing the reason for the surveys and how you can help us by completing them.  I know these take a minute or two out of your day to complete and I know you think we can see where the response may be coming from and may fear backlash.  Let me assure you right now that: 1) we cannot tell who completes the survey; 2) we can’t fix what we don’t know is broken so your feedback is critical; 3) we want to be better – we want everyone to enjoy coming to work – we can’t read your minds.  Without your feedback we don’t know where to focus our efforts.  Please take a minute, if you have not already completed it, to answer the questions honestly.  Tell us the truth.  If you have already responded, thank you, I appreciate it!

Please feel free to send me an email with any questions or suggestions for future podcast topics at jberlin@elhc.net or call me at 810-233-7331 ext 238.

Episode 10: Fuel

In this episode we talk about fuel.

If I could be “Captain Obvious” for a moment by telling you something you already know, I’d remind you that fuel is one of the top expenses anyone in the trucking business has to deal with.  Obviously driver costs (for fleet owners), insurances and truck payments are in the top five as well, but fuel is simply a necessity.  To make matters worse, it can be confusing with all of the discounts and programs fuel companies put in place.  So I want to give you just a quick view of how the fuel discount program works at Chieftain.

First, remember that volume drives the discount.  Fuel is a commodity and the companies like Pilot, Flying J, TA, Loves, etc. all want one main thing, gallons!  They measure the gallons that move through their network because it is a commodity they focus on making a few pennies per gallon times an enormous number of gallons.  Every negotiation and discussion with the fuel companies I’ve EVER had result in a discussion about how many gallons we could put in their network.  So the more gallons we have as a company the more leverage we have over pricing.

The next step in the negotiation process is to understand how the cost of the fuel works for the various trucking stop chains.  Simply put, all of the chains by their fuel from a fuel depot known as a “rack”.  The rack is the place where pipelines deliver the commodity to bulk delivery points whether it’s Exxon, Marathon, BP or whatever, they all terminate at a point where tankers come in and get loaded for deliveries to various truck stops.  The distance from the rack to the truck stop determines how many pennies per gallon will be added to the cost for transportation and the combined total of rack price and transportation becomes the “cost”.  This “cost” number is published multiple times per day (6 to be exact) and is distributed in an electronic feed to those interested in receiving it.  It is from this point that negotiations begin, with everyone knowing the actual cost of the product.

The types of fuel programs most prevalent are the “cost plus”, “retail minus” and “better of” pricing models.  The basically function just like it sounds – a “cost plus” program charges the trucking company a markup from cost for every gallon it buys regardless of what the sign says on the truck stop when you pull in.  Likewise, a “retail minus” program charges a discount of so many pennies from the retail sign on the truck stop when you pull in.  These programs make it easier to tell what you are paying but they are also subject to extreme fluctuation and individual truck stop preferences because they set the retail price so getting a discount from an artificial price isn’t really very aggressive.  Most small companies who have low monthly fuel volumes usually end up in these programs.  Then there is the “better of” programs in which you could have a “ better of cost plus $.04 or retail minus $.10” which depends primarily on the underlying cost but in times where the commodity spikes in price for a short term (like it can occasionally do in October when fuel is being consumed very quickly for farming operations) the retail minus feature can “protect you” from wild swings in cost caused by demand fluctuations.

Now, my understanding and research reveals that a lot of the truck stop chains don’t make as much profit on fuel as they do on other things they offer like food, coffee, maintenance services, etc.  This doesn’t mean they lose money on fuel, to be certain, but they are motivated to buy huge volumes of fuel from the refiners and make their money on the variation in the market prices for the fuel.  So, again, volume is their main focus and second, they want you stopping in to get coffee, food and other products or services that are at higher margins.  To incent us to buy gallons through their truck stops, because of our fleet size, Pilot/Flying J’s and Love’s has given us a hybrid fuel discount program that is “better of cost MINUS $.04 or retail minus $.10 per gallon”.  You read that right, cost MINUS $.04/gallon.  That means a couple things: First, the sign that shows the price for fuel at the truck stop doesn’t matter.  Second, owner/operators and fleet owners benefit significantly from this because you get that full discount every time you buy fuel at a Pilot/Flying J’s or Love’s Travel Center.   (To be precise, Love’s actually has a cost MINUS $.045/gallon program but they have a $.90 per transaction/card swipe charge so the pricing works out about the same as Pilot/Flying J’s.)

If you really want to dial into your savings even more, the “fuel solutions” you get from our QualCom system, come from a program called Expert Fuel that runs on our dispatch software.  It basically takes information from the load you are running that day and compares it with the most current cost (with our discounts) at every station along the route you would take and tells you where to buy fuel at the lowest price.  We measure the effectiveness of the Expert Fuel system regularly and every month it saves us between $.23 and $.30 per gallon from the US average price as reported on www.eia.gov .  With an average fuel economy of 6.5 mile per gallon that savings equates to between $.035 — $.046 per mile in additional revenue to the truck.  To quote a famous American inventor/author/statesman – “a penny saved is a penny earned!”

To summarize — volume drives the pricing, the more volume we have as a company the more aggressive pricing we will get, and the pricing on the sign at the truck stop doesn’t mean anything to us for what we will pay for fuel.  We push really hard to make sure you have a competitive advantage when it comes to buying fuel so you can put more money in your pocket every week.

AS A REMINDER —  The Team Conference Call is 3-15-18 at 1300.  Please call in to 267-930-4000 and use PIN 721-724-708# to get on the call.

Episode 9: Various Topics

In this episode I touch on several different topics including the planned Town Hall conference call, keeping trucks clean, the parking expansion area in Wentzville, and several other things.  Like I said in the podcast, the call-in number for the Town Hall conference call is 267-930-4000 PIN: 721-724-708# and it is scheduled for Thursday, 3-15-18 at 1300.  I’m also requesting, again, that you contact me with any questions, comments or podcast topics you’d like to have discussion about.

Thanks again for listening and please share this podcast with other ELH employees.  We continue to work hard to improve our communication systems and trust you will find opportunities to benefit from this effort.  Please send emails to me at jberlin@elhc.net or call me at 810-233-7331 ext 238.

Episode 8: Communication

In this episode of the ELH Podcast, I spend a few minutes discussing how communication technology has evolved over the years and why communication is so important.  Despite all of the tools we have for communicating with people it is not uncommon for miscommunication to happen even more frequently than ever before.  We typically forget that there is more to effectively relaying information than just what we say.  Body language, tone, inflection, the words we choose all play a part in effectively communicating with others.  Over the last few weeks I have participated in several meetings with groups of people from around the company.  Most of the “issues” and difficulties arise from one main problem — lack of clear communication.  If we all take a little more time to make sure we use all of the communication skills AND tools, we stand a much better chance of being heard and understood.

Episode 2: Company and Divisions

In this episode of the podcast, I spent some time talking about the various divisions of the company and talking about how the entire company has grown over the years.  Sometimes understanding the history of something can help build an appreciation for the hard work and effort that has gone into it.  Obviously everyone will have different opinions of how the growth looked from their perspective at the company but in this episode I try to spend a little time explaining what it looked like from my perspective.